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Photo: Ivana Cajina / Unsplash

Places

Best Beaches in the Bay Area

San Francisco and the Bay have some fantastic beaches for hiking and wildlife. You just need to wait till the fog clears.

Los Angeles and San Diego are known for tropical beaches lined with palm trees and packed with people in swimsuits, tanning and swimming. The pace is different in San Francisco, where the number of sunny days are clouded over by fog, and steep cliffs often cut sharply down to beach areas. But many beaches in the Bay are great for hiking, scenic views, observing wildlife, and catching some sun when it does appear. Here are the best beaches in the city and within an hour’s drive. A handy online guide is parks.ca.gov which lists directions, rules and facilities for California State Parks. 

Photo: Louis Reed / Unsplash

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach stretches for 4.8km on the Pacific on San Francisco’s West side. It’s close to Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Zoo. You’ll see surfers, but don’t jump in unless you know what you’re doing—the riptides are dangerous. Bonfires are allowed in designated firepits by stairwells 15-16 and 21-28. It’s a nice place to stroll on paths in sunny weather, or to witness San Francisco’s famous fog.

Ocean Beach

Photo: Montylov / Unspalsh

Land’s End

At the end of Ocean Beach, you’ll find Land’s End, which has the ruins of the Sutro Baths, the foundation of a giant bath house with seven pools built in 1896. You can explore the ruins and a cave and get on the Coastal Trail. The path takes you along the cliffs on the shore of the bay towards Golden Gate Bridge, with several fantastic views of the bay and stop-offs at smaller beaches such as Mile Rock Beach, China Beach and Baker Beach. At low tide you can see shipwrecks that have smashed on the bay’s treacherous rocks and spot whales during season.

Land’s End

Photo: Maxime Bourdereau / Unsplash

Point Reyes

About 48km northwest of San Francisco, Point Reyes is a scenic drive on the Pacific Coast Highway and an even more scenic destination. There are several beaches on the Point Reyes National Seashore here worth visiting, including the beautiful Abbotts Lagoon Beach, a great spot for birdwatching and Great Beach (also known as Point Reyes Beach), some 18km of undisturbed land. At the south end of the beach on the tip of the peninsula, you’ll find the Point Reyes Lighthouse and an overlook to observe sea lions.

Point Reyes

Photo: Shutterstock

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Located about 29km south of San Francisco, this is a sheltered cove you take a steep path down the surrounding cliffs to get to, which gave the area the nickname “Devil’s Slide.” As the name suggests, it’s a great spot for whale watching as gray whales swim close to the shoreline here. The beach has hiking trails and is considered a good place for sunbathing.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Marshall Beach

Just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, this narrow strip of a beach is secluded and accessible from a steep path down the nearby cliffs. Its seclusion has given it a reputation as a popular clothing-optional beach where people take advantage of capturing the sun when the bay isn’t shrouded in fog.

Marshall Beach

Photo: Shutterstock

Half Moon Bay State Beach

Half Moon Bay is about a 45-minute drive south down the bay from San Francisco. The beach here spreads 6.5km and has places to fish and an area for tent and recreational vehicle camping near Francis Beach. There are also trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. If you don’t feel like camping, Half Moon Bay has plenty of lodging and restaurant options.

Half Moon Bay State Beach

Photo: Shutterstock

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero, 23km south of Half Moon Bay, features over 1km of shoreline with coves, cliffs and picnic areas. The nearby Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is popular with naturalists, a good place to spot birds, deer, foxes and other wildlife. Nearby Año Nuevo State Park, some 24km down the road, has an observation area to view the 10,000 sea lions that visit annually. It also has a Marine Education Center.

Pescadero State Beach

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